Stories & Thoughts 

Your new rock-step of leadership

Updated: Jan 29


Who would've thought that I'd be restarting my writing about leadership, culture, and being truly you at work by talking about dancing?


For anyone who has been in one of my workshops over the last 12 months, you will more than likely have been invited to stand up, step back, and move your body. Not only is it a great way to energise weary zoom brains, it is a great way to get everyone on the same fresh page, letting go of what went before and starting with good intent now.

For example, yesterday my work-morning kicked off with a lovely bit of Stevie Wonder and then carried on with workshop 2 who requested M People - Proud. It turns out that this is my client’s theme song of the next three months and what a corker. Have you listened to the lyrics recently...or ever? The lyrics led us to asking and answering a powerful reflection question -
What have you done today to make you feel proud? -

Just wow. But lyrics aside, we stood up from our desks, stretched, adopted disco ball backgrounds, breathed deep, danced, and some of us even sang along. Our time together only started at 9:30am, but by then we’d already been on calls, home schooled, exercised, and one of us had even baked a cake - which took care of both English homeschooling and maths….for now.
By 9:30am we were all in need of a moment to breathe, a moment to stretch, a moment to remind ourselves that we are alive and that there is more to that living than a desk and that little green light. We spent the next two hours digging deep into behaviour change and owning our actions, really focusing on how to build teams that work and work they did.

If great leadership starts with self-awareness, we surely won't get very far if we pay little to no attention to our bodies. From breathing deeply before we speak to make ourselves heard; to regulating our emotions and responding wisely to our colleagues; to getting sufficient sleep to ensure we're not 'drunk at the leadership wheel.' We all need our bodies to function properly, so our minds follow suit. The physical benefits of exercise and moving your body are well-known, many, and varied. Getting away from your desk and raising your heart rate is proven to:

  • reduce stress by lowering your cortisol response and calming your fight or flight receptors,

  • boost motivation by increasing energy, reducing fatigue, and aiding concentration,

  • improve your memory and helping your learning to stick, and

  • encourage divergent thinking and creativity.

Studies found a direct correlation between people who exercise and an improvement in "cognitive performance and brain function in tasks requiring greater executive control.” Meaning that exercise helps our brains to work better, especially when the tasks become more complex. After exercise, people are more adept at ignoring distractions, multitasking, and holding and manipulating information in their minds.

This boost of energy brought on by middle-of-the-day dancing has become such an expectation in how I now do business. One lovely, non-dancing participant piped up at the end of my last session where I forgot/ throughout I’d thought better of it, to request a dance and say that he thought the others had really missed the energy it brought.
Although he chooses to stay seated, he joins in with a big smile and often a change of Zoom background to something song appropriate. As I'll talk about, it’s not always for everyone, but it definitely IS for more people than you might initially suspect.

But why dancing....

Neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman said, “Freestyle social dancing, such as foxtrot, waltz and swing, requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making, which is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways, giving you greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses.


I'm not suggesting that you take the Board out to Ballroom, but you could. The thing that these dances have in common is a built-in need to make quick decisions, effective two-way communication, and for all partners to get comfortable in ambiguity. Now, doesn't this sound like the demands made on leadership, especially when we consider the ever-changing nature of 2020? First we'll look at some of the recognisable business benefits, then we'll explore how to easily weave movement and dance into your everyday, in a way that feels good for you.


Dancing - Makes you better for business

Pre-Covid, there were many shifts in workplace expectations and culture that were already taking root. Pre-Covid we were already welcoming a fifth generation into the workplace, our business and markets continued to become increasingly global, we had a building expectation of flexibility that truly works for us, and we noticed a very bright spotlight on our commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Then we were thrown into a year, that was arguably the most disruptive many of us have seen or hope to see in our lifetimes. When the world is keeping us apart, our businesses need something that will pull us back together.


“Social time turns out to be deeply critical to team performance, often accounting for more than 50% of positive changes in communication patterns.” Whilst that zoom quiz is still a lot of fun and desk yoga beneficial, there's nothing like a good old dance break to shake off the day, get your blood pumping, and build connections all at once.

Or, if you ask scientific researchers...dance engages empathy, affordance exploration, attention change, and habit breaking, "when we train dance, we also train some of the relevant skills for conceptual problem-solving and critical thinking."

'I don't have time' and 'I don't dance'

are the two objections I'm expecting to hear, yet when I have made time and invited hundreds of people over the last few months to join me in a 3-minute dance break, none have declined. From Grads to C-Suite, this moment of unity and movement has been humoured and engaged with, if not totally joyful for all. Now, this is not about enforced fun and this doesn’t have to be ‘on camera’. A dance break is all about creating space, acknowledging our very human needs, and using all of the tools available to you to lead better meetings and create stronger teams.


Now not strictly about dancing here, but growing your awareness and understanding of how changing your physical state can have a positive - or negative - affect on your mental state. I’m going through a phase where I talk about Amy Cuddy’s work around Power Poses.
Now this is robust and well structured research as it is...then you layer on top a power song whilst we pose as a group and now we are talking. My go to power song at the power is Little Mix’s Power. Or I can recommend David Guetta’s Titanium or En Vogue’s Free Your Mind.

Try it out. Take 2 minutes to power pose and crank up your most powerful tune and you tell me that you don’t come out feeling better. Now how can you adopt this for your teams and help them feel more in control, more confident, and more able to speak up in just 120 seconds.


Understanding what's going on physically for the people you lead as well as mentally, emotionally, and culturally too, is critical to making the right leadership choices at the right time. Raise your hand if you know that dull ache in your shoulders as you've sat for too long or your hands have frozen as you haven't moved for hours. You don't need a degree in anatomy to help lead people to look after their bodies and brains better; you can help them by remembering and creating an expectation of movement throughout your day. Discounted fitness classes are all well and good for those motivated to join them, but as you create a culture of productivity and openness, how can you ensure that you breathe in movement, growth, and fluidity too?


As we all move from Zoom, to MS Teams, to Google Meets and back again, hundreds of stories tell us that we have lost our micro-breaks. Although unintentional and unstructured, we now realise the value these breaks bring; we have lost our tiny pauses, our times to take a breath, and the necessary moments in between that allowed us to process, file, and move our brains from one subject to the next.


As we've already mentioned, the physical benefits are many and so too are the benefits to our thinking. Who wouldn't want a team in front of them who are able to make better decisions, multi-task, concentrate, memorize, manipulate ideas, maintain openness, feel more relaxed, connect, and feel good will towards one another; a team who are more likely to innovate and progress. Simply put, on top of the physical, dancing builds similarities, shared experience, and connections and it "integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity and helping you think.


Thank you Drew Taylour-Davis for this fabulous mash up. For all your filming needs, check out Future Proof Films.

Dancing - Makes you better for you

Whilst we all like to think that it is our brain that controls everything we say and do, our bodies tell us otherwise. Fatigue, stress, hunger, tiredness, hormones, and emotions all play a role in how we view our world and how we view ourselves too. On top of the physiological benefits mentioned above, moving our bodies, and dance in particular, is likely to lessen anxiety and lift your mood. The act of synchronising your movements with someone else's is also shown to boost self-esteem, whilst getting ourselves comfortable in the unfamiliar is shown to increase a person's resilience, expanding our comfort zones just a little.


  • Do it solo - dance as you wait for the kettle to boil or crank up the tunes as you get ready for your day. No matter when, where, or what music you choose, 3 minutes is just enough to get your blood pumping and your energy zinging, helping you to be a better you for whatever the day brings.

  • Do it together - with the kids or with a trusted colleague choose a song that makes you want to move. Creating a moment of togetherness is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, stretch out some of those aches and pains, and ensure that you breathe deeply - at least once this day.

  • Do it as a leader - if you start each meeting with a little movement you will create extra headspace. By shaking off what went before, you will ensure that everyone around your virtual table will come to your meetings offering a fresh perspective, helping them to concentrate, remain open, and welcome new ideas, all thanks to the benefits of simply moving their bodies.


When you don't have the commute, moving between offices, or even the time to pee, you need to think of a new way that you, as a leader, can help yourself and others to show up at your best. Breathing deeply, building connections, and boosting your energy in a non-caffeinated way will help us all to face and navigate what’s to come. Good for the mind, soul, and body, not to mention your business, what's stopping you from taking that rock-step to better, whole human, approach to leadership?

But I feel silly....

So for those of us more used to deathly long slide decks and colleagues without their cameras on, this may well feel better suited to the realms of TikTok. How do you incorporate something like dancing in a way that works for you? First, have a think about what you want from each meeting, how can you clarify the purpose to boost engagement? What time of the day would you like to add a little extra energy so you ensure better conversations and why are these important? How can you play to the natural strengths of those in the virtual room to get better meetings for all? Remember this is always an invitation to join in and remember this may not suit everyone - but even when someone chooses not to join in themselves - I’m looking at you Neil - they are likely to be well aware of the benefits others get from moving their bodies and connecting in this way.


My not-so-secret formula for getting people moving:

  • Before the meeting ask the others for their favourite songs to dance to - then choose one of these to kick it off

  • Invite everyone to stand up and away from their desk, give them permission to be on screen OR just to one side so they're not on camera but still joining in

  • Offer people the option to move their body in whatever way works for them, stretch after hours on a screen, breathe deeply after being hunched over a keyboard, or dance like everyone's watching

  • Lead by example and encourage others kindly

  • When the song comes to an end, thank everyone and tell them a couple of the reasons why you chose to do this, you never know they might start to use it with their teams too.

I asked for some favourites from some of my dancing clientele - here are some of the ones they’ve suggested. I’ve even created us a Spotify playlist if you want to follow along.

  1. Uptown Funk - my favourite and thank you Paul

  2. Jerusalema - Thank you Aly

  3. Dance Monkey - Thank you Rob

  4. Gangnam Style - Thank you Lindsey and Noah

  5. Power - Thank you Kate

  6. I Want To Break Free - Thanks Saipriya - it’s a long one

  7. Seven Days Is Too Long - Thank you Sharon

  8. Waka Waka - Thanks Sue May

  9. The Dance Song - one for kids and adults alike, thanks Alper

  10. Right Back Where We Started From - Thanks Lisa

Desk Dancing 2021 - Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0wplBHO3idQjswrumiR11Y




© 2018 by Samantha Woolven. Your people. Your actions. Your words.

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